Cyclist out to give life to jaws

When Mark DiMaggio of Cambria starts his summertime bicycle ride Tuesday, he hopes to help eliminate a gruesome fishing practice.

The environmental science teacher will be raising money to combat finning, a practice where fishermen catch sharks, slice off their fins (including their tails) and then “throw the bleeding sharks back into the water to die,” a shuddering DiMaggio said.

Shark-fin soup is a delicacy in some Asian cuisines, he said, and with the fast-growing Chinese economy, more people are able to buy the soup and more sharks are dying.

DiMaggio, an award-winning teacher at Paso Robles High School, has set his sights high, literally. His 1,100-mile “Spinning to End Finning” ride will take him from Missoula, Mont., to Pueblo, Colo., and across the Continental Divide three times. “One mountain pass is about 11,000 feet high,” he said.

DiMaggio teaches earth and environmental science in Paso Robles, and an annual field biology summer course on Santa Cruz Island. In 2007, he was selected as the county Teacher of the Year.

He also received the Bill Deneen award for environmental contributions and the San Luis Obispo Community Foundation’s environmental award for a sustained contribution to the community.

DiMaggio currently bikes 300 to 400 miles a month. He hopes to ride about 75 miles per day on the journey, pulling a little trailer filled with supplies and camping gear, which “slows you down by about 25 percent.”

DiMaggio’s upcoming adventure was inspired by his students in Paso Robles and the movie “Sharkwater,” which, he said, “exposes this gigantic, multi-billion-dollar industry in Central and South America. A lot of finning is happening there.”

Pretoma, a nonprofit marine conservation organization based in Costa Rica, estimates that 100 million sharks are killed annually for their fins.

In the process, “sharks are being exploited,” DiMaggio said. “They’re taking sharks mostly on long lines, sometimes on 10- to 20-mile-long nylon lines with thousands of hooks.”

Most shark populations worldwide are at historically low levels due to serious overfishing, according to www.montereybayaquarium.org.

The website says shark finning is banned in some countries, including the U.S., but still happens in many fisheries worldwide.

How you can help

Tax-deductible donations of a fixed amount or a per-mile pledge may be made at endfinning.com, or by check payable to Pretoma, c/o Spinning to End Finning, P.O. Box 889, Paso Robles CA 93447. All donations go toward shark conservation.

Follow the trip online

Mark DiMaggio will blog about the ride at endfinning.com.